Faith in the public square: A conversation with David French

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Faith in the public square: A conversation with David French

May 7, 2022 -

David French, Dr. Jim Denison, and Dr. Mark Turman consider partisan hostility, why Trump divides Christian Americans, the persecution complex of many conservatives, why making abortion illegal won’t solve the problem of abortion, why we need to invest with love in communities, and ultimately how Christians should act in the public square.

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Show notes: 

Commentator David French joins Dr. Jim Denison and Dr. Mark Turman to discuss the leaked Supreme Court ruling that could overturn Roe v. Wade and why the partisan divide threatens our country.

They discuss the overreactions of conservatives and liberals, how Christians can go beyond hateful political exchanges, and why we should not be cultural warriors (3:12). French points out how good we have it in America and the persecution complex that Christian conservatives often have. He also talks specifically about Donald Trump and how evangelicals have a worrying tendency to defend Trump’s problems (8:36).

They then look to the Civil Rights movement as a model for real cultural change through peaceful means under actual persecution (12:58). French explains why he isn’t worried about the Equality Act under the current Senate (17:14).

They address the “all-or-nothing” trap that politics puts us in and how we subconsciously become lawyers for blue or red instead of the jury or judge (19:10). French points out that God is on the throne, so Christians cannot lose, whether Biden or Trump is president (27:11).

They discuss how making abortion illegal won’t solve the problem of abortion. Rather, it will take a cultural heart change, and there is hopeful news there (31:17). They consider how we need to make change through small institutions and communities, like through Little League, church, and making friends, not through politics.

They also consider how and why fewer and fewer abortions are being done and the current cultural backlash against the sexual revolution (45:47). Lastly, they reflect on Jesus’ teaching to love your enemy with no qualifications and why we need to be Christians in every area of our lives, not just on Sunday (50:16).

Resources and further reading:

About the hosts

Jim Denison, Ph.D., is an author, speaker, and the CEO of Denison Ministries, which is transforming 6.8 million lives through meaningful digital content.

Dr. Mark Turman is the executive director of Denison Forum. He received his DMin from Truett at Baylor and previously served as lead pastor of Crosspoint Church.

About the guest

David French is a senior editor for The Dispatch and was formerly a senior writer for National Review. David is a New York Times bestselling author. He is a graduate of Harvard Law School, the past president of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, and a former lecturer at Cornell Law School. He has served as a senior counsel for the American Center for Law and Justice and the Alliance Defending Freedom. David is a former major in the United States Army Reserve. In 2007, he deployed to Iraq, where he was awarded the Bronze Star. He has written for The Atlantic, as well as other notable publications.


Transcribed by

Mark Turman  00:07

Welcome to the Denison Forum Podcast. I’m Mark Turman, the executive director of Denison forum, sitting down again with Jim Dennison, the CEO of Denison ministries and cultural apologist with Dennison forum. Jim, how are you today? Doing well today, Mark, how are you doing? Great. It’s an exciting morning for us. Going back, even six or eight months, when I joined Denison ministries Dennison forum full time, we started talking about doing a podcast. And really the inspiration for that, for me anyway was to have conversations like we’re going to have today with the kinds of thought leaders that we’re going to talk to you today. We’re excited today to have a conversation with David French, who is probably known to many on our podcast audience. I know I came to know the name David French through you, Jim. Going back, I don’t know four or five years ago, at least in your references to him in terms of articles and things that you had read or heard. And I heard the name enough that I started pursuing it on my own, and have become an avid follower of the dispatch where David works. I have also read a number of his articles that come out in newsletter form. And most recently, a become an avid follower of the good faith podcast, which is actually kind of a bridge to this conversation. I was driving back from Houston seeing my perfect grandchildren, perfect few weeks ago, as our mind and I was listening to David French and Curtis Chang on the good faith podcast. And they were interviewing a guy named Jonathan sharks. And I was like, Well, there’s only got to be one family name chart and the world. And I know it sharks who works in our ministry, and I started making some contacts and I said, Hey, Melissa, is her name. Hey, that was your Jonathan. Right? And she said, Absolutely, it was and that helped facilitate the conversation today. Let me introduce David. And then he can say a word of greeting as well. fence as the case might be. Yes, exactly. David French is a senior editor at the dispatch and a contributing writer for The Atlantic, a graduate of Harvard Law School, David was previously a senior writer for National Review, and a columnist for time. He is a former constitutional litigator, and a past president of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education. David is a New York Times bestselling author, and his most recent book, which we’ll get into a little bit today, divided we fall, America’s secession threat, and how to restore our nation. That book was released this past September. David is a former Major in the United States Army Reserve, and is a veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom, where he was awarded the Bronze Star David, it is my thrill to welcome you to the Denison Forum Podcast.


David French  03:09

Well, thanks so much for having me. It’s an honor, I really appreciate it.


Jim Denison  03:12

Well, David, just so you know, when we started out with the podcast strategy, and we started out asking who could be some guests that we would love to have on the conversation, you were at the top of the list, you were number one on the list. So we are thrilled to be in this conversation with you delighted for what you do, what you’ve done to serve our country, what you do to serve the cause of Christ, and just the brilliance with which you really help us engage the culture effectively. So we’re huge fans, and so grateful to you for giving us this time today. really grateful to you. Oh, that’s so kind of you, and really happy to be here. Well, thank you. Well, let me begin, if I could, by talking with you about a scenario that really, in many ways, is in light of the Supreme Court leak that is dominating the news today. In just a bit, I’d love to get you to respond to that more from a legal perspective, using your legal expertise at that point. And also, in a bit, we’re going to talk about abortion a little bit itself, what would it mean? What would it mean, if roe falls? What are the consequences for us in that context? So we’ll get to that in just a bit first. But there’s a larger scenario behind this and I wanted to get to for just a moment, one of the many, many reasons I’ve been so grateful for your work is the spirit in which you do it. We as a ministry are all about Ephesians 415. It’s kind of our mantra speaking the truth and love. We say quite often, to a group yesterday, we’re not here to be cultural warriors. We’re to be cultural missionaries. That as our friend John Stonestreet says ideas have consequences, bad ideas have victims. The other side is not the enemy. That actually in spiritual context, Satan is the enemy. And we need to be building bridges of relationship we ought to be about conciliation and we ought to be about as a democracy, working toward a kind of pluralism that you so defend and so articulate. So I’m completely with you there. We are absolutely of one mind in that context. At the same time, I’m imagining some friends of mine who disagree, who would say to be specific in a political context that will Let’s just be candid about this, even though this sounds partisan, that we needed to elect Donald Trump in 2016, because he would nominate justices to the Supreme Court who would overturn Roe v. Wade. And while yes, he’s not the Sermon on the Mount character, I wish he were he is the Romans 13 wield the sword of the state sort of leader that we had to have to face down Iran and North Korea, whatever, but especially for the court, especially with regard to abortion. And now, if roe falls, as the Alito leaked memo might suggest, if that does turn out to be what the court decides, and we know that may not be the case, then by conservative estimate, as many as 88,000 lives every year could be saved, if roe were to fall, depending on how you do the numbers and all that. So Weren’t we right? Don’t we need to be cultural warriors? Don’t we need to be aggressors? Don’t we need to be taking on the other side for the sake of life? Second issue would be religious liberty, and that could be the Equality Act and all this inside, that they’re coming after our civil rights. We now have to be aggressors, to the culture in a way that I don’t want to be in haven’t tried to be that isn’t our spirit. Can we talk about that for just a bit? What are your thoughts in the context of how to position ourselves relative to cultural engagement?


David French  06:10

Well, you know, the first thing you have to do is we can’t sit here and say, Well, I’m against this politician, because I did not support just full disclosure, I did not support Trump in 2016, or Hillary. And I did not support Trump in 2020, or Biden. So I didn’t support either major party candidate in 2016, or 2020. But we can’t get this partisan mindset that says, if something good happens, because of a president, I didn’t support that, I’m going to find a way to say it’s not good or to minimize it. Right. So from day one, you know, one of my positions on Trump was his judicial appointments are good. His Judicial Appointments are good, and they have bought those judicial appointments, those judges have done some really good things. And if this draft Alito opinion holds, and we can talk about whether, you know, what are the odds it’ll hold and all of that later on, but if this draft Alito opinion holds, that’s a really, really good thing that has occurred. Now, the problem that I have is with this, it is this idea that essentially says, Okay, wait a minute, here’s this issue of abortion. And if I take this issue, I’m gonna say this issue is important enough for religious liberty is important enough to where a lot of the commands that exist in Scripture about how Christians should conduct themselves in the public square, no longer apply. Okay, so I like to talk about Micah six, eight, what does the Lord require of you a man? What is good it is to act justly, to love mercy or love kindness, depending on the translation, and to walk humbly before the Lord your God. It does not say unless the stakes are high, right? You know, if you’re talking about the fruit of the Spirit, you know, that’s, it’s the fruit of the Spirit, unless the stakes are high, or you, we love your enemies, unless your enemies are pro abortion. I mean, there are none of these caveats and think of it this way. If you’re reading the New Testament, just just let’s pull the New Testament out for a minute, every syllable written to the church and to Christians about loving your enemies, speaking the truth and love was written in a time when Christians could not imagine the wealth and power we have to no doubt, couldn’t imagine it. Like our religious liberty concerns, they would think that’s hysterical. That keeps us up at night.


Jim Denison  08:28

Absolutely. I’ve said that a lot of Cuban friends who say the same thing. They would say, look, you’re not persecuted. And you made the point that I have more liberty than ever.


David French  08:36

Yeah, yeah. Yeah. Now there are that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t defend the American constitutional structure. In fact, I think that’s part of our responsibilities as good citizens. And in fact, Congress has delegated to the American people through civil rights statutes, sort of the ability to police our own constitutional structure. And so I’ve long defended America’s constitutional structure. But no point when you’re defending America’s constitutional structure, whether I’m even sue, you know, litigating, or whether I’m in politics, am I relieved from the obligations that you talked about, about loving your enemies, blessing those who persecute you the fruit of the Spirit, Micah, six, eight, none of those things. And so one of the things that troubled me during our last four or 567 years has not been that there was a politician who did some good things or in some bad things. That’s, you know, I think Trump had an unusually bad character. And we can go into a lot of the bad things that he did that I think really tore at the social fabric of this country and some pretty profound ways where he left the country worse off than he inherited it. But, you know, the thing that bothered me was not that somebody say would vote for Trump. Like, these are hard calls. These were hard decisions. And, and I don’t think that we should sit here and say, well, here, what’s the Christian thing to do? in the voting booth, right, there’s grace. We had hard decisions to make. But here’s what really bothered me was when people would rationalize or defend or excuse conduct that they would not rationalize, defend or excuse in anybody else. Or by 21 thing I noticed between 2016 and 2020 as some people went from sort of the hold your nose and vote approach to sort of the third boat in the boat parade, and not in spite of a lot of Trump’s pugilism. But because of a lot of Trump’s pugilism, they really loved that he took it to him that the quote unquote enemies of the church, and I’ve put it this way, if you are not to hate your enemies, you’re not fulfilling that command to love your enemies, by hiring someone to hate them for you. So, you know, so look, we can look at Trump and we can say policy A, B, or C we liked and, and was good. And I can look into a policy D, E, F, and G was not good. And I can also say his character was sadly dreadful. Okay. And what we have to be able to do as Christians is a moot remove ourselves from the partisan mindset enough to where we’re not so much on Team Red or Team Blue, that we can’t tell the truth and can’t feel like we can tell the truth or even be curious enough about, about the truth to know the truth sometimes about politicians we support or oppose. You know, I’ll give you an example. Some folks get so much in a media bubble, that they don’t even know what they don’t know, I was talking to this super great Christian man that I’ve known for years and years and years, just one, you know, salt of the earth person, very, very, very, very Republican. And he was bemoaning the fact that political leaders lie so much. And he said, you know, like Joe Biden lies, and I said, you know, man, Joe Biden has said some things that aren’t true, and, and so did our previous president and Trump and he looks at me, like, I’d lost my mind. He couldn’t believe that. I would say that Donald Trump lied. But that’s how deep into sort of the partisan bubble that he was. So yeah, I think with all political leaders, if they do if they do something or make decisions that are good, that are that are just, we should celebrate it. But we can never rationalize away what is unjust, or what is cruel, or what is false, or what is deceptive. And that was my problem. In the last 567 years. It wasn’t that it wasn’t with Christians who are trying to accomplish good things. It was when Christians were rationalizing, rationalizing away, evil or cruelty or malice, that they would never excuse in anybody else.


Jim Denison  12:58

So is I agree, absolutely. And there is no condition. And our Cuban friends would say this, our Chinese friends would say this, our friends in parts of the Muslim world would say this, look, you are not facing persecution, as we understand persecution here. So you know, right, let’s really get some context around all of this. So is there a and I don’t know the answer to this. I really don’t this is the opposite of a rhetorical question. Are there scenarios out there, whether it’s abortion or religious liberty or something else, where we without sacrificing the fruit of the Spirit without sacrificing the command to love our enemies, where we are to be perhaps more aggressive, more militant, more militaristic, more engaged in an aggressive posture than perhaps I’ve been willing to be? So that makes sense. What?


David French  13:40

Yeah, yeah, it’s a good question. And I would say, we do actually have a model in modern American life of a Christian political movement, confronting extraordinary injustice, and a Christ like way, and that was the non violent civil rights absolutely motivated by the philosophy of non violence. Okay. So that is seeing a situation of horrific injustice. You know, the Jim Crow regime was a horrific injustice, you had just to put it in perspective in the United States of America, the land of the free home of the brave, you had an apartheid sub state, in the southeastern United States, it was it was an apartheid state. And so you had this this coalition of powerless people. I mean, you know, American evangelicals kind of liked. It feels like we sort of have a bit of a persecution complex. Now. You want to know actual actual persecution? If you are a black American in the south, no doubt. Okay. That was absolute actual horrific persecution. And what did they do? They responded with this philosophy of non violence, this civil disobedience based on an you know, King would even say and John Lewis would say that, actually our civil disobedience is based on a high respect for the law. because we pay the penalty for what we’ve done to violate the law, we don’t act and violence. And, you know, it was one of the most successful social movements of all of American history. And it was not one based on cruelty or malice or punching your enemies in the face at all, at all, it was based on a notion of loving your enemies it was based on. It was a Micah six, eight movement. And and so when we look at that, and we look at that extraordinarily successful movement seeking justice, and that didn’t forsake other Christian virtues, it can kind of in some ways put us to shame now, when we approach the public square from a position of almost infinitely more power, than say, Rosa Parks had, right. And feel this sense of panic about the public square and just a point on religious liberty. You know, our religious liberty is not hanging by a thread, right? Going back to before Trump going back to the Obama era. There was a decade more a decade long religious liberty winning streak at the Supreme Court where most of the cases were decided by 637. To some of them nine, zero. Religious Liberty has never been stronger as a matter of legal doctrine than never in the history United States been stronger than it is today. That doesn’t mean that people aren’t taking aim at it. Though, the way I’ve put it is that the walls of the citadel of liberty are really high and strong. But the cannon fire against it is real. It’s just that the walls can easily repel it in a lot of some of these cases that you see and read about. You, I know what the outcome is going to be, you know, those who are attacking religious liberty or free speech or are going to fit in fact, there was just a religious speech case. Another one one at the Supreme Court. This week is going to bring in the opinions because right spine didn’t find enough. Yeah, yeah. Boston for nothing. Yeah. Yeah. And the opinions written by Justice Breyer, not not a Trump appointee by Justice Breyer. So religious liberty in this country is in very, very, very historically solid footing.


Jim Denison  17:14

Are you concerned about the Equality Act, so called Equality Act?


David French  17:18

I’m not,


Jim Denison  17:21

it doesn’t becomes a law.


David French  17:22

So as of right now, there’s no ability for it to become long because it doesn’t have it doesn’t even have 50 Democratic votes. It doesn’t have as written, I don’t think Joe Manchin supports it as written. They’re not going to break break the filibuster for it. And also, the elements of the Equality Act that are particularly intrusive, many of them would be unconstitutional under current law. So I don’t I think the Equality Act, here’s where I’d put it, about 80 to 85 to 90% of the Equality Act is already law, okay, after the Bostock decision, is pretty much already lost. So employment discrimination on the basis of gender identity and sexual orientation is unlawful now, under the Bostock decision, and the implications of the Bostock decision radiate out of outside of employment. So the Equality Act is much of it is kind of already in effect. Now, the part of the Equality Act I find particularly noxious is the element that would repeal RiFRA, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, to the extent that it conflicted with the equality and that that seems directly aimed at religious free exercise. But religious Free Exercise isn’t just protected by RiFRA. It’s primarily protected by the First Amendment. And the Equality Act can’t repeal the First Amendment. And so it is a law. I don’t I don’t support the law as written. But I’m not necessarily laying awake at night about the law.


Jim Denison  19:02

Thank you for that. That’s encouraging. That would have been what I hoped you would say, and would have been my sense, but I certainly don’t have the capacity. You have to do that. So Well, Mark.


Mark Turman  19:10

Well, David, I wanted to maybe pick up here off of your recent conversation with Curtis Chang about identity in the post it being in a partisan post mindset or getting away from the partisan mindset in this idea of identity. I wonder if there’s an opportunity for our listeners believers to consider? Because it has seemed that part of the reason maybe a couple of reasons why Christians and Christian leaders particularly in talking and engaging in the political sphere didn’t come out against what was obviously unbiblical. In leaders, whether it’s Trump or others, the reason they didn’t speak in some cases about those was because we’re in this world where you have to be all all the way In all the way out, you can’t say, Hey, these are hard choices that we have to make. And here’s the things that we need to be concerned about when it comes to this or that leader, we can be, we can be in favor of these policies or these positions. But we can’t really go all in on any of these people as we understand them right now. But the way that our system is set up, you either have to be all in or all out, right. And then coupled with that, something that I thought was really insightful in the recent good faith conversation about identity is a huge, huge issue that our culture is stuck struggling with, and how we assemble our sense of identity. And love some of the conversation if you could reflect on that a little bit. How Christians need to just anchor themselves in building a biblical Christ formed identity, as opposed to a culturally formed identity.


David French  21:07

Yeah, that’s to two great themes. Let me start with the all in or all out part. So the all in or all out is really important to understand is that kind of a psychological dynamic of engaging in politics. So what ends up happening, and I’m going to use courtroom terms, because I think it really is helpful for framing the way we approach things is that once you sort of put on the red jersey or the blue jersey, once you become a supporter, Republican or supported Democrat, a lot of times your mindset changes to where you’re essentially become a lawyer for your side, you’re like a free, unpaid lawyer for your side. And so what do lawyers do? Will lawyers maximize and argue that they maximize the virtue of their client, and they minimize the vise, right? So if I’m representing you guys in court, and there’s a jury everything good you do, I’m going to talk that up, everything negative, I’m going to rationalize away because I want the jury to have a picture of you, I want the jury to sort of see you in a bright shining light. And then there’s this other attorney on the other side, who is doing the exact reverse everything bad about you, dredging and elevating and everything good about you minimizing that, A, that’s a that that is a kind of a tough way for Christians to interact with their fellow human beings part of it, you know, in a courtroom setting with rules of evidence, where there’s a juror and the fact finders and all of this, you’re in, you’re playing your role as part of a truth seeking process. All of that is fine, in a situation where you’re not in a courtroom, and there’s no rules of evidence. And essentially, what ends up happening is you become in some ways, almost, without even realizing it, or rather out even understanding it often kind of inherently deceptive. Because you’re what you’re doing, you’re you’re maximizing the good of your side, and you’re minimizing the wrong and you’re trying to create if you’re casting a false picture, and one of the Why would you minimize the wrong because there’s always someone in your ear saying, Don’t give ammunition to the other side, right? Don’t give ammunition to the other side. And so it drives you into this lawyer pose, which is a real problem. Because you shouldn’t be a juror or a judge, you should be adjudicating what’s right and wrong between competing sides not putting on the lawyer close the jersey and stepping into the ring. Now, that doesn’t mean you don’t run for office. That doesn’t mean you don’t identify as a Republican, it’s talking about more in that transition to that core identity. How do you see yourself Where is it on the list of your identity? Identity markers? Where’s that partisanship? You know, Christians should be way. I mean, that should be the Paramount identity, marker, husband, father, grandfather, you know, all of those things are just so core. And then how far down do you have to go if you even have to go far down at all before you get to Republican or Democrat? And, and one of the things we talked about in the podcast is a warning sign of that you’re deeply involved, you have a deep identity that’s Republican or Democrat, is if you begin to start to have an involuntary negative reaction to people on the other side, right. So if you learn if you meet Bob, and Bob has come to, you know, repair your, your air conditioner, and and you’re a Democrat, and Bob’s got Magga hat on, do you have an instant negative reaction? Or if you’re Republican and Bob has a Biden hat on Do you have an instant negative reaction? Well, you should know at that moment that something about your political identity has wormed Its way too deeply into you. And so what is that involuntary reaction that you have? And here’s another one. We know from you know, research I did for my book and and we know that when you’re deeply part of Listen, if you encounter a negative fact, okay, and by negative fact I mean a fact that would be in opposition to a belief you have, let’s say, you believe that there were 10,000 Fake ballots in Fulton County, Georgia. And you find out that there were not 10,000. Well, if you’re deeply partisan, you experience negative facts as an attack, it triggers a sort of involuntary, like fight or flight, adrenaline type surge, when you should be grateful, you should be grateful to be to learn that, you know, learn the truth, learn the truth. And so we really need to be very careful about that law, your mindset, and that partisan mindset that creates that sort of involuntary urge to defend, to rationalize to excuse, and sometimes an invalid, voluntary urge to attack. As a citizen of a constitutional republic, who’s tasked with helping select our leaders at all levels of American government and society, we should take a much more of a view that we’re like judges or jurors, that we’re gathering facts, and that we are trying to determine discern between competing narratives and, and that’s a that’s just a different mindset


Mark Turman  26:20

is there is there a way to even shift it further, to where to where now we’re looking at every election cycle as if it were a trial, and somebody has to win and somebody has to lose, or we’re laying over the top of it. This competitive mindset that you know, is so pervasive within sports, at the end of the contest, there has to be a winner, and there has to be a loser. And there are long term implications for that. And so we’re looking at every election, in that context of are we going to be the winners or the losers? And then the spoils of that victory are going to be long lasting, or the consequences of the loss? Is there a different way for us to start thinking about particularly political involvement?


David French  27:11

Well, yes, 100%. I mean, we have to realize that and we have to get it here deep in our core, we have to know that God is on the throne. Okay. Not Joe Biden, not Donald Trump, God is on the throne. Why did the nation’s rage, you know, is a question posed in Scripture. God is on the throne. And so when we understand that God is on the throne, and we’re not selecting somebody who truly is, you know, look, in many ways, the stakes of our elections are so much lower than the stakes of leader choices, and almost in many, many, many, many, many countries on earth, because our leader is checked in so many different ways by our system, the ability of any given president to end religious liberty, for example, or, you know, what some people would said was in America, that’s our leaders are among the most restrained leaders in the world, restrained by our legal system. Okay. So, but I saw so many Christians sort of take an existential threat view of our political system, when it was completely misplaced. And also also, we shouldn’t ever have an existential threat mindset when approaching the political sphere. We know God is on the throne. We know God protects his people, we know God will sustain his church, we know all of those things. You know, we were taught if you grew up in Sunday school, like I did, you’re taught the story of Hezekiah, facing the Assyrians. And here’s his tiny kingdom of Judah, facing a world superpower. And, you know, people are saying, Should you go to Egypt and an ally with Egypt and this Prophet saying, Nope, don’t ally with Egypt, because God’s gonna deliver his people. And Hezekiah listens to the prophet, and God delivers his people. And we’re taught that, and yet we take this mindset that well, that’s fine for Hezekiah facing the Assyrians, it’s not fine for Christians facing the Democrats or the Republicans. And when, you know, we have to understand that God is on the throne here. And the other thing that we also have to understand is an awful lot of what you’re told about the stakes of any political contest bar. False. They’re false, okay. We live in a we live in a political an atmosphere of political rhetoric, that’s constantly catastrophizing, everything. So you’re being just fed message point after message point after message point that everything is at stake, that this this election is going to turn the fate of the nation that this And after a while, once you see the pattern, you just can’t unsee it, everything is always an emergency all of the time, when the reality is that what builds and sustains this nation that we can affect as an individual voter is much more our local Bible study, it’s much more our local crisis pregnancy center, it’s much more our little league, it’s much more all of these local institutions, and much more our own family, okay. And if you want to look at what has been causing a not all Americans social factors are in decline, our social indicators are in decline right now. But those social indicators that are in decline, many, if not most of them are related to the fracturing of the little platoons of the small institutions. There’s this very poignant book written many years ago called Bowling Alone, yes, how Americans are fragmenting we don’t belong to the small associations anymore. And if you want to repair a country, you know, it matters a heck of a lot more than your your individual vote is one out of 150 million, go ahead and vote, just put it in the right proportion. It’s, it’s your engagement with your family and your friends and your local community.


Jim Denison  31:17

Now, David Brooks has been talking about trying to reweave society around these local associations, whether they’re churches or the PTAs, or they’re the Little League, you know, all the things that used to be the mortar holding the bricks together, that are just so falling apart on so many levels. So well, let me if I could ask you to come back over into your legal side for just a little bit, if you would, and ask you to talk a little bit about what your thoughts are relative to the elite Elite relative to the Supreme Court, Roe v. Wade. Let’s do some forecasting here. Just a bit. Yeah, let’s first of all, explain very briefly why the leaked memo does not necessarily constitute the outcome. Just explain that for our listeners. First, that this doesn’t a doesn’t have to be B may not become b think about Casey as one example. And then let’s talk about if it does, what that actually means for the state of abortion in the country and what we as Christians can do. So talk, first of all, about the legal process, the the finding the leak versus the actual finding, that’ll be here this summer.


David French  32:15

Yeah. So a leaked opinion is not does not mean the case is decided the case is not decided until the case is the opinion is issued. Literally when it hits that Supreme Court website, when it’s read from the bench, say, for example, at a hearing at a Supreme Court, that session of the Supreme Court, that’s when a case is decided. And the history of the court is littered with examples of justices changing their minds during this process where drafts are being circulated amongst the justices.


Jim Denison  32:46

And that’s a good thing, right? I mean, that’s part of how the collegiality supposed to work, where they have this opportunity for dialogue and discussion.


David French  32:52

Yep. Yes, that give and take, and the results can be good or bad. I mean, there was a famous 1992 example where Justice Anthony Kennedy changed his mind on abortion and


Jim Denison  33:01

Casey and wound up writing the majority opinion on the other side of what he was saying he ran to do. Yeah,


David French  33:07

right. Right. Justice Roberts, allegedly, and it’s pretty well established changed his mind on Obamacare. There’s some indications that a previous a Justice Alito concurring opinion in in a case called Fulton V city of Philadelphia, involving religious liberty was originally going to be the majority opinion. But it appears that there were minds changed during the course of the deliberation. So while I think it is likely that the Alito draft that some version of the Alito draft is going to be the majority opinion, it is not certain. It is not certain so. So we just have to wait. I mean, we just have to wait and the leak being the leak will have we, we can’t really anticipate necessarily what effect the leak will have on the ultimate outcome. My my just gut instinct is that it will harden everyone’s position in place, wherever they are, they’re going to stay. And because they don’t want to be have been bullied or intimidated by the leak one way or the other. So wherever people are right now is my guess is that’s where this comes out. And if it’s with some elite a majority opinion that we saw, then that’s what it is. If it is not then, you know, we’ll find out soon enough.


Jim Denison  34:17

I’m even seeing one theory that that’s why it was leaked is that there was some fear of the cabin or somebody might be waffling a little bit. Ross Douthat this morning in New York Times, that might be one reason it was leaked was to get them heartened to get them both so that we would get the five before that the whoever leaked the opinion was hoping would be the actual outcome, as opposed to getting it the other side, which is the other argument is we’re wanting to get at least one to 10 and perhaps leaving in the outrage and all of that, because that that seems to me to be pretty implausible that you could tip a Supreme Court justice by virtue at least I hope not by virtue of the kind of outrage that might be on the other side of it. So okay, so let’s then for assume that the the Alito draft becomes some version of reality, that’s a five to four row falls. What does that mean for abortion in the country? Okay, so


David French  35:00

the short answer if roe falls means that abortion then becomes a matter of state law or potentially federal legislation that’s a little more complicated because they’re commerce clauses shifts and everything. But we know for sure it becomes a matter of state law, it may also become a matter of federal legislation, but for sure it becomes a matter of state law. And so states have sort of this crazy quilt patchwork of laws all across the country that would then come into play. Now, a bunch of states, the states where most abortions occur in the United States have state laws that protect abortion. There are many states actually states where with much lower abortion rates, have laws that are very restrictive or would even ban abortion. And so one of the best estimates that there was a 2019 study done by the Guttmacher Institute that estimated that around 87% of abortions would still take place post roe. Okay. So you might think, Well, wait, if of half the states in the union are so roughly either banned or dramatically restrict abortion? How is it remotely possible that still 8788 90% of abortions would still take place? Well, it’s possible because many of the, as I said, many of the big states that have higher abortion rates protect abortion rights, also because people can travel also because people have access to what are called chemical abortions, you know, medication abortions, right. And so, it becomes very, very difficult to outright ban abortion, how difficult the abortion rate in 1973 by all available indicators are best available indicators was higher in 1973, than it is now when abortion was mostly banned. When abortion was mostly banned in the United States, the abortion rate was higher than it is now. How could that be? Well, abortions are it’s easy to get an abortion even if the law says you can’t. Relatively easy so. So the bottom line is if you want to end abortion, so roe does not overturning roe does not end abortion. Okay, if you want to end abortion, there is no way around major culture change. Now, the good news is that culture change hasn’t been occurring. And this is something that a lot of people don’t realize. The abortion rate peaked around 1980 81. Right after Roe v. Wade, abortion soared. I mean, it’s just really art way up. In 1980 81. It peaked, and it’s been going down in every presidency since 80. So the abortion rate went down under pro life Reagan pro life Bush pro choice, Clinton pro choice, I mean, pro life Bush pro choice Obama. Now, interestingly, under CDC numbers, abortion actually went up under Trump. Now, we don’t know for sure if that’s the case, we’re waiting on some more numbers. So that might change. But at least according to CDC numbers, this shows the power of culture here called because there are a lot of restrictive abortion laws that were passed during the Trump administration, by the states. But abortion under CDC rules under the CDC measures went up. So the culture matters. A ton a ton here. So there’s no way to sort of say, oh rows overturned, our work is done. Right. That’s not the case at all. Abortion only ends through major, major cultural change, or the continuation of the culture change that’s already been going on. What does that look


Jim Denison  38:45

like? Do you think? What are some pieces of that major cultural change that’s happening and needs to keep on happening?


David French  38:51

Yeah, boy, this is super complicated. So some of the culture changes related to contraceptives. In other words, people there are fewer unplanned pregnancies. Some of the culture changes related to attitudes to abortion, more people who have unplanned parents pregnancies carry children to term. So there’s this fascinating just absolutely fascinating Notre Dame study that was done in 1920 20 on the sundry I think, yeah. They took hundreds of Americans interviewed them comprehensively about abortion found a bunch were in support of banning found a bunch were in supportive legalizing abortion through all stages of pregnancy. Most are in the middle between that somewhere in the middle between those two positions. But this is key and I’m reading this none of the Americans we interviewed talked about abortion as a desirable good so even very pro choice people did not in anything you see on Twitter where people are like shout your abortion or whatever that is super fringe. Most people do not see abortion, it’s a desirable good so that I’d say that’s a cultural shift here. And it’s one of the reasons why abortion is much less common. Also, you know, there’s less teen sex than there used to be. There’s less, there was an Atlantic cover story a couple years ago called The sex recession, there’s just less sex than there used to be. So it’s, you got tons of different factors coming together. That a means more pregnancies are planned. And B, when pregnancies are not planned more of those who are carried to term, right, and you combine all of those factors together, and that means that abortion is less common than when Roe was decided, and abortion was mostly illegal.


Mark Turman  40:48

And, David, would you go so far as to say, and in part that is due to some of the diligent and passionate work of people like in pregnancy centers, and yeah, and within advocacy and other levels, and certainly the advent of technology, like sonograms that have yet greatly brought into the light, the reality of what happens in an abortion and, and has, in many ways, hopefully educated over 50 years since Roe? Yeah, just how bad abortion is on the merits. Yeah, and so so all really hard. All the efforts of pro life have really made a significant difference.


David French  41:32

Oh, my gosh, yes. So it’s really hard to peg and I’ve been wanting roe return to my entire adult life ever since I knew what Roe was I wanted it overturned. But if you’re looking at this 40 year arc of decreasing abortion rates, it’s decreasing rates. That’s abortions per women ratio, abortions per pregnancy and absolute numbers. So even though America is a much bigger country than it was in 1973, population wise, or 1980, at the peak, there many fewer abortions. So you can’t really peg that to any specific national political policy, because it’s gone down through pro life and pro choice presidents. However, there’s this massive infrastructure that exists of loving, caring Americans who reach out to love moms and their babies. crisis pregnancy centers are all over the United States of America. I’m a huge believer in the work of crisis pregnancy centers. And so what’s happened is churches, crisis pregnancy centers, families, individuals, are really stepping up again, to go back to what we said earlier about the importance of those immediate social connections that you have. They’re really stepping up into people’s lives. And I’ve seen the change in my own lifetime, when I was in high school was the late 1980s, or the mid 8387. And frankly, it was awful. It was awful. Abortion was a form of birth control. I knew women I knew I had classmates, by the time they were seniors in high school, they’d had three abortions. I knew families that when they found out that their daughter was pregnant, would immediately pressure immediately pressure their kid to get an abortion. And you fast forward to my own son’s highest public high that was a public high school, and that I graduated from you fast forward to my own son’s public high school experience. Totally different culture, doesn’t mean that there weren’t abortions, there were abortions, but a completely different cultural approach to it, both at the family level and at the individual level. And that’s the work of a lot of heart change. That’s the work of a lot of culture change.


Mark Turman  43:48

Right? So kind of tagging on to that. We have this new term that probably came from the left sex positivity. And I listened to one of


Jim Denison  44:00

euphemisms so interesting.


Mark Turman  44:03

Yeah. But recently caught the dispatch podcast in which your coworker Sarah is her did a book review of the book rethinking sex? That was written by a Washington Post? Journalist, I believe the member Yeah, very interesting. Conversation. Looks like a very interesting book, but just this idea, and it’s very much on my mind, I wrote a doctoral project around this idea about how the church needs to step up its game even more in the area of helping families to be resourced and to be supported. And to be guided in the best of biblical sexuality as the sacred approach, which is really what the book rethinking sexes is really pointing to, is the idea of coming back to the sacredness of sex and say sexuality and obviously big issues about identity that flow into this, where there’s so much controversy of that. So many people that will listen to this podcast are actively involved in local churches, they are pastors, they are leaders. Many of them at at at age have come through things like the purity movement, and yeah, just say, or just weight, that kind of weight, that all that kind of thing. Where do you think the church might be able to go in this issue? Obviously, it’s upstream from things like abortion. Yeah. Where do you think the church can get better at helping believers in families in this area?


David French  45:47

Well, I think we have to understand that there is an enormous amount of heartache and misery out there, in part because the sexual revolution in many ways is sort of burning itself out in some really profound ways. So if you wouldn’t get in, you’re gonna go back in the 1960s and 70s. And even into the 80s you would see a lot of things happening at once you would see divorce rates climbing is no fault divorce, right spread like wildfire fire across the country rates of you know, unwed pregnancy, or unwed parenting just skyrocketing as sort of there was this argument I don’t know if you guys remember the whole argument about Murphy Brown. Dan Quayle single parenting was no different at all, from parenting, you know, with a mom and a dad and, and so all of these, abortion was skyrocketing. So all of these signifiers that said, hey, look, we’re going to disconnect sex from marriage, we’re going to really disconnect sex from love that it’s just a form of recreation, we’re going to disconnect child rearing, from marriage. All of that is kind of ending in tears right now. So and people are adjusting their behavior. So divorce rates are down. More kids are raised with with her mom and dad now than it used to be. Abortion rates are down. So you have a lot of cultural course correction, and one of the looming cultural, cultural course corrections right now is related to sex and porn. There’s an entire generation of women and young men who’ve been deeply damaged by the proliferation of porn. And they’re looking for something different. And, and this is where the Ember book is so powerful. She has this thing that she wrote in The Washington Post where she’s talking to all these young women. And when one young woman says, Can’t we just love each other for five minutes? You know, and that’s where the church should be sitting there and saying, This is a place where we’re centering all this, there’s a deep connection, this deep intimacy, the matters are that are so closely connected to the human heart, or centering them completely re centering them away from that sort of atomized existence of pleasure seeking indulgent existence, which was been destroying hearts and minds and centering them around a biblical model that restores hearts and minds. And that’s rooted and centered and loved. Now, we have to be careful that we don’t repeat the eras of this sort of the, you know, the purity movement, which kind of became a sexual prosperity gospel, you know, that as well. So if you just do A, B, C, and D, then you’re gonna have the greatest, you know, you’re gonna be married, and you’re gonna have this incredible sex life and marriage and nun. No, no, no, no, that’s, that’s not, you’re not centered around that, or a movement that said, Well, if you kiss another man, before you’re married, then you haven’t saved something for your husband. And you’re tainted in some way. You know, I remember the height of that movement. My wife and I were involved in youth ministry and, and 16 year old girls bawling their eyes out wondering if they could wear white going down the aisle because they kissed a prom date. Right? And you know what? No, no, that’s that kind of legalism. You got to shun that, but recentering people around the love of Christ and recentering you know, families in that as a in this in this entire cultural view that essentially says no, no, what we’ve been doing for so long, it’s not working. It hasn’t worked. And there are broken hearts out there. And that’s why the book is incredibly powerful in the church should be right there, in the midst of this movement responding to all of that heartbreak,


Mark Turman  49:41

right? And remember contextually, biblically, that that’s exactly what happened again, with the gospel when the Gospel comes in, especially into places like Rome and Corinth. Yeah, it’s walking into a place that is sexually confused and broken and dark as anything that we’ve seen even on a much grander scale. comes in is this beautiful word of No, this can be seen in a sacred way this can be seen in a beautiful way, not as something animalistic or divorced from this the most sacred parts of our lives.


David French  50:16

Well, and the other that that word love, I think is really, really important because what we have to communicate to the culture and what we have to communicate to people is we love them. Okay, we love them. And that that connects with politics, right? We can’t carve out our political presence, and say, except when it comes to politics, then we’re going to dominate and destroy, but in every other area, we’re getting it we’re nice. We’re nice people. No, no, no, in every area, in every area, we have to communicate love and affection for our fellow citizens, for our neighbors in every area. Because people don’t experience this as compartmentalized people. You know, someone experiences me in politics, and I’m a total jerk to them. I’m a total jerk to them. Every person around, every person could come up to them and say, Well, you really need to know David outside of politics. He’s really great outside of politics. Well, they don’t know me outside of politics. It’s, you know, you don’t get to carve this thing out. Or you don’t get to say, Well, I’m an animal in business. But outside of business, you you should see me at the soup kitchen. You know, that’s we don’t compartmentalize our morality like that.


Mark Turman  51:31

That’s what Jim, would you talk about separating Sunday from Monday?


Jim Denison  51:34

Yeah, in fact, I think that’s a great place to close. David, thank you so much for that, and for the way that on such a practical level, you’re landing us, I think exactly where the gospel wants us to be landed. So my own background is in philosophy of religion. That’s my doctorate. That’s what I’ve taught over many years and seminaries and other places. And one of the things out of that, that I talked about a lot is this Greco Roman kind of separating the soul in the body. You know, the you get this from the orphic, cold up to Plato, and even through Augustine, and even up to today, you’ve got the Sunday and Monday spiritual, secular religion, real world, you get this transactional religion plays a sacrifice on the altar, said the god bless your crops, go to church on Sunday. So God bless you on Monday, you know, pray, so the god bless your day, kind of almost using God to as a means to my end, and having this compartmentalized life where, well, I know what I have to do what I have to do in business, you know, but I can still teach my Sunday school class over here. And ya know, and you preachers don’t live in the real world, if you don’t know that, you know, I’ve even had people in the churches have pastor get on these finance committees of these personnel committees. And think, you know, my job is to be the hard nosed businessman, the preacher, just not willing to be, you know, and so I’ve been bring Monday into Sunday, and think I’m doing a good job, of course, you know, in this kind of a context. And so whatever it is, whether it’s abortion issues, or religious liberty issues, I hear you, again, calling us to holism, calling us to Jesus statements, you know, take up your cross daily and crosses all of you be crucified with Christ submit, present your bodies, a living sacrifice, be surrendered to the spirit, on a daily holistic, level. So let me ask you, as we close this, if I could one more question, what makes that so resonant for you, when you what, in your own experience, but in your own faith development has brought you to that place? Because I see that in everything you write, I see that and everything you do, you’re the same when you’re on a podcast is when you’re writing there’s as holism. And you what got you to that place? And how can we learn from that?


David French  53:22

Yeah, that’s a really good question. One of the things that got me to this place, quite frankly, was repentance. Because, look, a lot of the things that I talked about when I talked about the problems of the partisan mind, I’m talking about myself, you know, I was a pretty partisan person, and in it for a pretty extended period of my life. And I remember right before I deployed to Iraq, Iraq was a wake up call for me, by the way, in this sense, I remember right before I deployed to Iraq, I gave a speech at a conservative conference, and I was a religious liberty pro life lawyer. And, and I did that for, you know, 20 plus years. But as a religious liberty pro life lawyer, and someone asked me a question, right before I deployed, I was also in the reserves. And he said, Why are you leaving? Why’d you volunteer to go to Iraq, when you’re doing so much good defending liberty here at home? And I, you know, in front of hundreds of conservatives kind of got this, I had this great line, because I believe the two great threats to America are radical leftists at home and jihadists abroad, and I feel called to fight both. Yay, everyone cheered. And then I go to Iraq, and I see what an actual enemy is. I mean, we fought al Qaeda in Iraq, which was the precursor to ISIS, and everything that you saw ISIS do in 2014 2015 they were doing in Diyala Province. And 2007 2008. It was horrific. It was horrific. It was it was I can’t even begin to describe the horror of what happened in that region of Iraq. Yet, I lived in Cambridge, Massachusetts going to law school, I lived in Ithaca, New York when it had a socialist mayor I lived in midtown Manhattan or in midtown Manhattan when it’s one of the bluest parts of America, I used to live in Center City, Philly, when the bluest parts of America, and I had a good life, I went to church, I had friends. And the idea that I would compare in the same sentence, these fellow citizens, and mentioned them in the same breath as these people who are beheading children. You know, that’s what she taught us we’re doing, I just felt this sense of shame, to be honest, that I had let politics grab me so and hold me so tightly, that I could say a sentence like that, right? Of course, I didn’t say they were exactly the same, but I put them, you know, I put them together. And, and I just felt a sense of shame. And that really started me on a journey away. It was a process away from that partisan mindset. And so when I’m sort of diagnosing the partisan mindset, I’m, I’m telling you, I’ve lived it, I’ve lived it. And, and the other thing that happened also is, as I was beginning this journey, out of this partisan mindset, I was haunted by this question. Why is it that all of the learned teachers of the law and the learned scholars of, of Scripture missed Jesus? Not all of them, but I mean, the vast majority, why is it that they missed Jesus when they had studied the coming Messiah, their whole lives? And it’s because, you know, I think it’s pretty clear from scripture, they had locked in their minds, a sort of a political, cultural savior, no doubt, they hadn’t imagined the Savior who actually came. And I began to ask myself, how much have I locked myself into a view of my role as a Christian? And what it means to be an a Christian in this country? How much have I locked that into politics? How much have I locked that into power? When Jesus Christ Himself came in the first phase of this earthly ministry ended with what four or five people at his feet at the cross? And then even after his resurrection, when he when he leaves again, he leaves behind? Not that many people without a clear plan? Right? Yeah. And, and here, I am thinking, you know, just focusing so much my mind on the role of the church in creating a political structure, when that was not Jesus, that wasn’t Paul. That way, so it really took time to recenter. Me, it took time to recenter me because I didn’t want to become like one of those people who missed Jesus.


Jim Denison  57:58

Okay, I just wrote down. I’ve never thought about that before. And I know we have to close. Are we wanting Christ to be like the returning Messiah, that He will be one day, rather than the Messiah he was when he was suffering? You know, no, aren’t wanting Jesus to be today what he will be one day, you know, Roman, Revelation 19, king of kings, Lord of lords, are we wanting him to be that today and missing the Savior? He is the suffering servant that he hasn’t caused us to? I’ve never had that thought before. I think that’s a profound, profoundly convicting question, and calls us to the kind of holism that we all need to be about and like


Mark Turman  58:35

we were talking about earlier, are we hoping for Jesus to show up as the bully, right, we’ll be on our songs. He’s


Jim Denison  58:40

my bullet. Slugs. He’s on my side. Yeah, exactly. Yeah, right. So profound.


Mark Turman  58:45

Well, David, thank you so much for your time to be a part of this conversation with us. As we said, we’re big fans, and we’ll continue to be and we just want to thank you for being a part of this conversation. Yeah,


Jim Denison  58:55

thank you for what you did and for who you are. I’ve taken so many notes here. I’m so grateful. I’ve learned so much. And I’m just so grateful for doing what you’re doing. Please hear us encourage you to keep doing what you’re doing and know that we’re grateful and so many of us are grateful as well.


David French  59:08

Well, thank thanks so much for having me. I really appreciate it and really enjoy the conversation.

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